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Twin Metals’ potential impacts: They’re not just on water quality

Bruce D. Anderson
To date much of the discussion concerning sulfide mining has revolved around potential effects on water quality. The following comments focus on social and terrestrial impacts that could occur if Twin Metals sulfide mining proceeds.

I acknowledge that I rely on copper in my electronics and vehicles. However, there are 20 existing copper mines in the United States and all occur in the arid west. None of the existing copper mines is found in a water-rich environment like northeastern Minnesota.

The EPA has identified hardrock mining as the nation’s top toxic producing industry. It concluded that since 1997 this industry accounted for 41 percent of all toxics reported in 2010, or 1.6 billion pounds.

Viewing sulfide mining in context

When considering the potential impacts of sulfide mining on the environment, particularly on the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA), policymakers, managers and the public need to view such mining in the context of other ongoing impacts to our state’s wild and natural places. Wetland drainage, loss of grasslands (CRP), and deforestation continue unabated in western Minnesota; frack sand mining, deforestation and forest insects and disease threaten the state’s southeast and central areas; and invasive species and unmanaged motorized recreation erode wildland character throughout Minnesota.

Couple this with an expanding state population, which has increased from 3.4 million in 1960 to over 5.5 million in 2016, a 60 percent increase. A good metric in determining population density as it relates to open space is acres per person (APP). The state’s APP declined from 15 APP to 9.4 APP between 1960 and 2014. When considering the ratio of public land APP, there was approximately 3.4 APP in 1960 compared to 2.2 acres APP in 2014 — a 35 percent decline.

The disappearance of Minnesota’s wildlands has been drastic. There has been a 95 percent loss, and by 2035 unmodified wildlands are projected to decline by 98 percent if current trends continue. The extent of wildland loss in terms of APP has dropped from about 383 acres per person pre-settlement to 2.6 acres per person today. 

My experiences

I’ve lived and worked in two areas affected by mining and one area affected by oil and gas development. Although mining and oil and gas development are distinct activities, the socio/environmental impacts are similar.

While in the Black Hills I witnessed the development of a large open pit gold mine (Gilt Edge Mine). This open pit mine was moved forward through political pressure despite environmental risks. Today the Gilt Edge mine is an EPA Superfund site.

When working/living in Montana I was part of a federal team to analyze development of a large platinum mine (Stillwater Mine). This proposal had issues similar to Minnesota’s sulfide mining proposals, including wilderness, endangered species, water quality, and an active tourism industry. I witnessed the large influx of people, which increased traffic congestion and illegal motorized intrusions into the wilderness. The setting of the area completely changed. Moreover, while living in Red Lodge, Montana, I visited mine tailings from the old Crown Butte Mine near the Clarks Fork River headwaters. I recall the orange, iridescent color of the stream pollutants. This too was declared an EPA Superfund site.

The most discouraging impacts I witnessed occurred in the Bakken oil field in North Dakota. The entire social fabric and environmental setting were turned upside down. Over 500 oil/gas wells were developed on federal lands during my year tenure in the 1980s. The town I lived in tripled in size and public services were stretched thin. Entire drainages were altered. Toxic drilling chemicals and gases (hydrogen sulfide) were prevalent. Adverse impacts to wildlife including bighorn sheep, antelope, deer, golden eagles and prairie falcons were common. The cyclical boom/bust nature of energy development caused abandonment of public infrastructure projects, depressed housing markets, and undone environmental mitigation.

Potential impacts

  • If sulfide mining occurs near the BWCA, the region’s remote setting and naturalness would be degraded. Noise generated from mining operations would impact solitude up to 10 miles away.
  • A population influx would create urban sprawl, increased un-managed motorized recreation, and increase the potential for invasive species establishment.
  • Impacts to wildlife could occur. It’s recognized that the Rainy Lake Watershed (RLW), including the Twin Metals lease area, is home to many of the state’s rare animals and plants. Despite representing 1 percent of the state’s land area, the RLW contains 16 percent of the state’s rare species occurrences.

Similarly, the distribution of rare features is disproportionate. Consider that 2 percent of the state’s Outstanding/High Bio-diversity and 8 percent of High Conservation Forest acres occur within the mineral lease area, which accounts for only .5 percent of the state’s land area.

A substantial income source for the Ely area is tourism. It’s a gateway to the surrounding wildlands. This would change with mining. Visitors seeking natural settings would go elsewhere; ecotourism jobs could be lost. Moreover, mining is a “boom and bust” industry subject to national and worldwide economic cycles.

It is clear that sulfide mining would degrade an exceptional tract of public land that is vital to local, state and national constituents and stakeholders. In order to protect, maintain and enhance these exceptional resource values, it’s essential that copper mining not be implemented.

Bruce D. Anderson, of Chisago City, is retired from the U.S. Forest Service (37 years) and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (4 years).

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Comments (29)

  1. Submitted by Craig Poorker on 04/24/2019 - 01:41 pm.

    Bruce – thank you for your contribution to this discussion. You bring up some very valid, additional, talking points. This will be helpful in our continued fight to keep one of the last of our wildlands wild. Toxic sulfide mining has NO place so close to the most popular wilderness area in the U.S.

    • Submitted by Barbara Lofquist on 04/25/2019 - 07:43 pm.

      He lives in a Chisago County. When he visits, he’s a tourist. I support responsible mining everywhere in Minnesota. I work in a mine and live on Lake Vermilion. He needs to mind his own bobber. He can worry about Southern Minnesota’s water quality.

      • Submitted by David Lundeen on 04/26/2019 - 10:44 am.

        And I, as a St Paul taxpayer, own just as much of a federal forest as you do. Proximity is not a claim to ownership. It’s hard to see how you can sponsor state funded socialism for a foreign company. You have presented no legimate argument here and everything had been quite easily contradicted.

        • Submitted by chuck holtman on 04/28/2019 - 10:37 am.

          Not only is proximity not a claim to ownership, neither is being a taxpayer a prerequisite to having a view that counts. When we participate in civic discourse and politically, it is our duty to make judgments on behalf of society as a whole and those who will come later. A person’s thoughtful views as to the ecological disruption of a large area count as much as any other person’s thoughtful views, whether he or she will ever set foot in the area as a resident or tourist. Moving to the Amazon doesn’t give me the prerogative to decide if it should be destroyed, particularly if my judgment is based on what will serve my own well-being.

  2. Submitted by Richard O'Neil on 04/24/2019 - 04:18 pm.

    What can we do to stop Twin Metals?

    • Submitted by Bruce Anderson on 04/25/2019 - 09:57 am.

      Hi Richard.

      To help stop adverse impacts from sulfide mining I would suggest staying plugged into the debate. Send our US senator’s Klobuchar and Smith an email. Also send email to your US House Representative in your District. Let the Governor know how you feel.

      Good luck and thanks for asking.

    • Submitted by Barbara Lofquist on 04/25/2019 - 07:45 pm.

      If you don’t live on the Range, it’s really not your business.

      • Submitted by Brian Nelson on 04/26/2019 - 10:24 am.

        Barbara, this makes no sense. First, people from outside of the Range (particularly in the Twin Cities) pay for most of the Range’s Local Government Aid. Next, should something go wrong with one of these new mines, costs may well fall on the taxpayer (again, most live in the Cities).
        Lastly, the Iron Range delegation has had a disproportionate say in the rules and regulations included in the various Environmental Omnibus bills passed over the years statewide. It was Sen. Tomassoni who prevented any meaningful regulation on silica sand mining in Southeast Minnesota.

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 04/27/2019 - 02:44 pm.

        And should out state MN legislators mind their own business and let us raise our minimum wage?

        How about the Metro area raise it’s own gas tax so we can fix our roads, and leave rural roads to crumble? Sound good?

  3. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 04/25/2019 - 05:46 am.

    What? You mean there is STILL a debate about allowing a foreign corporation to come in to our great country, rape us of our resources and leave us with a toxic mess???

    America first!

  4. Submitted by Mike Cole on 04/25/2019 - 10:39 am.

    Gilt Edge Mine was in production from 1876 to 1999 with owners to many to keep track of. Most production took place long before the current EPA was even created. Stop using pre EPA mines for examples.
    Stillwater Mine in Montana is still in production and has zero EPA violations on record. The Crown Butte Mine never happened due to the lack of the Montana Dept of Environmental Qualities failure to complete a draft DEIS on time. The federal government bought the land from the mining company to include it into a Wilderness Areas. The existing mines at this location had once again been there long before the EPA was formed.
    Moving on the area would not be degraded due to the small size of the Twin Metals Mine and it being and underground mine not open pit like the PolyMet Mine. There would be NO significant urban sprawl since the population of Ely was once over 6,000 and now is much lower than that. Hence there is room for any expansion without causing any damage to the environment.
    Not sure why he brings up the invasive species part of this, but there is more of a danger from invasive species from tourism than there would be from any mining project.
    Mining land is like a large game preserve. Due to hunting being prohibited on mining land species such as moose, deer wolves etc actually like these areas. Anybody who has worked on a mine in NE Minnesota can tell you that.
    Finally the tourism angle. Tourism was booming when there was an active mine right in the city limits of Ely. This did not bother the tourists at all. The real threat to tourism is the aging popualtion and their inability to go into the BWCAW anymore. Younger generations want amenities like wifi and warm beds at the end of the day not sleeping in a tent. Hence tourism numbers have declined. This is why when you go storefronts and buildings for sale.
    Twin Metals and PolyMet will bring the good paying jobs our area needs to survive. Without them our town will eventually disappear and along with it our heritage built on mining, logging and tourism.

    • Submitted by Brian Nelson on 04/25/2019 - 12:03 pm.

      I for one am hoping that Ms. Palcich and Ms. Arneson will return for repeat performance of last year. It was good fun to see Mr. Cole’s ineffectual flailing:

      https://www.minnpost.com/letters/2018/03/polymet-not-mount-polley/

    • Submitted by Tanner Hill on 04/25/2019 - 05:38 pm.

      Water>poor people who need money. Just because people don’t have access to good paying jobs based on intelligence, ability, location or history does not mean an ecosystem has to be ruined. A place that looked the same 10,000 years ago might not even be recognizable in 10 years: for shame. In my lifetime humans could destroy coral reefs, Amazonia, Serengeti, and canoe country to name a few. Despicable.

      • Submitted by Jim Marshal on 04/26/2019 - 09:16 pm.

        Are you saying that those in MN who do not live in the twin cities are less intelligent than those who reside in the metro? That’s exactly the sort of arrogant, provincial attitude that prevents us from looking at this issue as a state issue rather than a metro versus non-metro battle.

        • Submitted by Tanner Hill on 04/27/2019 - 03:16 pm.

          Maybe find a job that doesn’t pollute ecosystems? Like healthcare, teaching, etc. Location has nothing to do with intelligence? Duh. Maybe if people could self invest in their own abilites and not rely on a poor environmental project to earn a living this proposal wouldn’t be a problem. Other jobs don’t ruin environments….

          • Submitted by Jim Marshal on 04/27/2019 - 09:48 pm.

            That attitude sums it up nicely. Those in the arrowhead should reside themselves to scrubbing your motel toilets and washing your dishes just so you can have a pristine place to go canoeing once a year. A point of view that comes from the most polluted region of the state. Talk about hypocrisy.

            • Submitted by David Lundeen on 04/28/2019 - 08:39 am.

              They shouldn’t be resigned to do that. That’s a callous view, and I don’t wish anyone any hardship. However, 200 jobs are all that are promised for PolyMet, and I can’t imagine Twin Metals will promise much more. That’s not a lot of jobs, and these jobs will be gone after 20 years. That’s pretty unsustainable. What’s not unsustainable is manufacturing. For example, there is a tool manufacturing company near Hibbing that is growing quite rapidly, asking with a solar panel company. We should be spending money to ensure companies like these can grow and offer iron rangers good compensation, instead of the boom and bust of mining in which everyone will ultimately lose.

              • Submitted by Jim Marshal on 04/29/2019 - 02:32 pm.

                200 mining jobs as well a few hundred additional good paying support jobs that would accompany those positions is much more than anyone has offered the people up here in decades. I’m not a huge fan of this sulfide mining but as long as the economic prospects in the arrowhead remain dismal, local support will remain. I went to the solar company you touted near Hibbing and they were not hiring.

    • Submitted by Barbara Lofquist on 04/25/2019 - 07:34 pm.

      Agree 100%!

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 04/25/2019 - 08:33 pm.

      Mr. Cole, I have a few questions for you.

      The @MinnesotaMiners Twitter page indicates that you are the CEO of an organization called Minnesota Miners. I’ll assume that is still the case unless corrected.

      Can any citizen join Minnesota Miners? Or is it just an industry group?

      Are there actual blue collar folk that are members? Has anyone involved in Minnesota Miners actually worked in a mine, and spent time laid off?

      How is Minnesota Miners funded? Does it get any funding from mining corporations. If so, are any of those organizations foreign corporations, or US corporations that are owned by foreign corporations?

      Most importantly, in regard to financing, does Minnesota Miners receive even one dollar of funding from corporations with a financial interest in Poly Met or Twin metals mines? You do agree that this is reasonable information to have for us to evaluate what you state, do you not?

      What is the extent, if any, of the paid staff of Minnesota Miners?

      What exactly does Minnesota Miners do?

      Have the operators of the proposed Twin Metals mine signed agreements with the Building Trades?

      Have the operators of the proposed Twin Metals mine signed an agreement with the United Steel Workers, so that the miners will be able to collectively bargain for wages, working conditions, and a dislocated worker program when the jobs end in just 20 years?

      Mr. Cole, these seem like pretty reasonable questions, and if any are not, I’m sure that you or the other Minn Post commentators will let me know. Based on your history of comments on this issue here on Minn Post, I’m sure you will see this. So your response, or lack thereof, will be telling.

    • Submitted by Bruce Anderson on 04/26/2019 - 09:07 am.

      Thanks for your comments Mike. It’s always valuable to hear all sides debating this issue particularly from folks like yourself who reside in the area.

      While working for the federal government during the early 1990’s I participated in public meetings involving the Gilt Edge mine site. Brohm Mining company proposed to conduct heap bleach mining (a more recent mining technique at the time) on the former Guilt Edge mine site. Brohm Mining’s proposal (like the Twin Metals debate) was controversial. There were strong sentiments from both pro-mining and anti-mining groups and individuals. The mine was approved and moved forward. Later in the decade Brohm Mining Company abandoned the mine and their agreed to water treatment commitment leaving the tax payer to foot the cleanup bill.

      Regarding the Stillwater Mine in Montana, I did not suggest this mine was creating water quality problems. Rather I highlighted through personal experience that the rapid increase in mine exploration brought with it a substantial increase in population into a remote area. That rapid increase in population and associated motorized use completely changed the wildland setting up against the Absoroka-Beartooth Wilderness. We can not lose sight of this issue when debating Twin Metals.

      My point with the Crown Butte mine which I visited several times was to portray that toxic chemicals associated with earlier mining continued to enter the environment long after the mine was abandoned. I remember well when the Clinton Administration bought out the mining company’s interest (New World Mining).

      Regarding increased population impacts. I agree that Ely’s population has declined 15% the past 30 years (from 4,000 in 1990 to 3387 today). According to Twin Metals about 2,000 jobs could be created with their mining venture. That would entail close to a 60% increase in population in the vicinity. Considering these would be high paying jobs (according Twin Metals), it can be assumed that many new homes will be built along with associated infrastructure. I’m not at all criticizing the importance of creating jobs or an individual’s right to seek housing-we all desire that including those working in the tourism industry. I’m just suggesting that if Twin Metals becomes a reality a substantial number of people will move to the area and they will need a place to live and this needs to be highlighted in the mining debate.

      Addressing tourism. A 2017 study showed that copper-nickel mining in the Boundary Waters watershed would cost Northeastern Minnesota $288 million in lost revenue from tourism and lost property values of about $509 million. Up to 4,490local could be lost resulting in between $402 million and $1.6 billion in lost annual income.

      Thanks

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 04/26/2019 - 11:53 pm.

      You state that the mines in question were in production before the EPA existed. Why should anyone believe that mining companies, and the miners they employ, care any more now about the environmental damage their activities cause NOW than they did THEN? Last I checked, you folks are at the forefront of dismantling the regulatory authority of the very EPA you seem to cite as being the bulwark against the toxic past you and yours have foisted upon apparently every site this sort of mine (and many others for that matter) has been placed. What proof of your commitment can you provide, outside of anecdotally mentioning your supposed “love” of the outdoors and the supposed idyllic present conditions of your local environs. Why should we take your word for it? Can’t you understand the impossibility of placing trust in a population so obviously desperate to have these mines at any cost?

  5. Submitted by Joe Musich on 04/25/2019 - 06:44 pm.

    I maintain my position that mining is unneeded if recycling reusing if you will would be adequately developed.

  6. Submitted by C.A. Arneson on 04/26/2019 - 08:00 pm.

    Respectfully Mike, stop using examples of mines that are not comparable to Twin Metals, or PolyMet, or any of the other proposed sulfide mines in Minnesota, mines that would form a sulfide mining industrial complex impacting the watersheds of both the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) and Lake Superior.

    The Wisconsin DNR (WDNR), concerning the Stillwater mine, summed it up succinctly when it stated, “The ore body being extracted is a high-sulfide deposit that also contains levels of carbonate mineral in quantities sufficient to characterize the waste material as non-acid generating.” Twin Metals is not Stillwater.

    I used a portion of that WDNR quote a year ago, when I responded to your MinnPost Letter, “PolyMet is not Mount Polley. I also commented that Stillwater produced approximately 1,800 tons per day, a minuscule amount compared to any of the proposed sulfide mines in Minnesota’s Duluth Complex, all are disseminated ore bodies of 99% waste.

    Twin Metals would not stay an underground mine. I have repeatedly pointed out that Minnesota’s Regional Copper-Nickel Study indicated that a portion of the mineral resource now controlled by Twin Metals/Antofagasta, contains the same mineral resource within the first thousand feet as it does at depths greater than a thousand feet. Antofagasta would eventually do the same thing that INCO was planning to do decades ago, dig an open pit.

    There is a relationship between invasive species and mining, which I addressed in 2011 in MinnPost’s Community Voices, “The irony of Minnesota’s new aquatic invasive-species law.” https://www.minnpost.com/community-voices/2011/06/irony-minnesotas-new-aquatic-invasive-species-law/

    I disagree with your analysis that the main reason tourism is declining is an aging population coupled with a lack of interest by younger generations. Why would tourists come here when they feel unwelcome? When they have been threatened in the Boundary Waters? When a local newspaper declared Ely is at “war” over mining? When those promoting sulfide mining appear to care about mining jobs, but not about the investments of people who have started businesses dependent on clean water, or about people who have chosen to live here because they thought they were investing in a healthy place to build a home, or to raise children?

    The sales of lakeshore declined dramatically in the area, while those in other lake areas did not; I would argue that most of those looking for lakeshore property do not want to invest in a sulfide mining area. When it comes to polluting the environment, copper-nickel sulfide mining is not iron mining.

    I disagree that Ely will disappear if we protect the greatest sustainable resource we have, our waters. We need to work together to find a future that preserves our healthy environment. Choosing a sulfide mining industrial complex would destroy what we all love most about this area. Water-rich Minnesota still has a choice. https://www.nevadacurrentcom/2019/04/22/mining-lands-nevada-on-top-of-national-toxic-material-report/

  7. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 04/26/2019 - 11:27 pm.

    Who in the world mines sulfide?

  8. Submitted by C.A. Arneson on 04/27/2019 - 01:58 pm.

    Tom, I would have thought you would know the answer to your question by now, but I always appreciate being given yet another opportunity to inform those who do not.

    “Sulfide mining” is just as accurate and accepted by the industry as non-ferrous, copper-nickel, polymetallic, or metallic sulfide mining (the term used to encompass varied combinations of metals).

    The mining industry uses the term sulfide mining in a variety of ways: copper sulfide mining, zinc sulfide mining, nickel sulfide mining, etc., the mining of sulfide minerals, and simply sulfide mining.

    Since the focus of this article is Twin Metals (in reality Antofagasta), Chile uses the term sulfide mine. Antofagasta’s homepage, About Us/Antofagasta Minerals, stated, “Los Pelambres: A sulfide mine located in the region of Coquimbo,Chile, 240 kms to the north of Santiago. It produces copper and molybdenum concentrates through milling and flotation processes.” Interestingly, in 2016, shortly after Antofagasta completed its acquisition of Twin Metals, Antofagasta also changed its homepage. Los Pelambres is now referred to as a sulfide deposit.

    Brian Gavin, CEO of Franconia Minerals before it was bought out by Duluth Metals before it became Twin Metals, and now Antofagasta, said the following, “Technically this is sulfide mining and naturally that’s going to raise environmental concerns.” Brian Gavin certainly had industry and geology credentials.

    The term copper-nickel is used because it has been the industry practice to identify the predominant, economically recoverable metals, but actually it is mineral sulfides that are being mined. Certain minerals can then be recovered through flotation. So technically using either “copper-nickel” or “sulfide mining” is accurate.

    We could all refer to polymetallic sulfides, but that would be quite a mouthful

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